Commentary: Black Is the New Gay

The face of the LGBT movement might be a person of color.

Posted: 06/20/2014 12:00 PM EDT

I had an eye-opening conversation with my friend Rob Smith this week. We met in Washington, D.C, where Rob was in town to give a speech at the Department of Energy.

Rob is an Iraq War veteran who has written a riveting book about his experiences in the army. He's also Black and gay. I first met Rob a few years ago when he was just getting started as a writer and had submitted an essay for my 2012 anthology For Colored Boys. When I saw him Wednesday night, he had just returned from Key West, Fla., where he'd served as grand marshal for the city's annual LGBT pride parade.

He's not alone. Former college basketball player Will Sheridan, another contributor to For Colored Boys, will serve as grand marshal for Chicago's pride parade next weekend. He's also Black and gay.

Sheridan follows in the footsteps of former NFL player Wade Davis, another contributor to the book, who served as grand marshal for Chicago's pride parade last year. He, too, is Black and gay.

Quick! Look around! Suddenly, Black LGBT people are everywhere.

In music, television, sports, law, business, politics and many other areas, fresh new voices and faces are rising. BET's Clay Cane interviewed half a dozen Black LGBT public figures in BET's LGBT Pride Month Series this year. Hardly a week goes by without news of a major new development or milestone in the LGBT community, and more and more of those newsmakers are African-American.

I don't know if gay is the new black, but Black is definitely the new gay.

Just this week, Darrin Gayles was confirmed to become the nation's first openly gay Black male federal judge. He'll be joined on the bench by Black lesbian attorney Staci Yandle, who was confirmed the same day.

Remember, it was just last week when America was buzzing about Laverne Cox's historic appearance as the first transgender person on the cover of TIME magazine. She was one of many firsts for the LGBT community, now featuring African-American faces.

In the past few months, we've seen author Janet Mock's two prime-time appearances with CNN's Piers Morgan. We've watched Jason Collins play in his first game as the NBA's first openly gay player. And we've both applauded and cringed as CNN's openly gay anchor Don Lemon lurched from controversy to controversy.

These changes come as America moves forward on gay marriage, another area where we're slowly starting to see prominent Black LGBT figures in the news. In Hawaii, R&B diva Monifah wed her partner Terez Mychelle this year. In Hollywood, Queen Latifah presided over a wedding ceremony where not one but two Black gay couples exchanged rings. And down in Atlanta, two Black gay dads, Kordale and Kaleb, have turned a controversy about an Instagram photo into a new book about their lives.

Many challenges lie ahead, but a new moment has arrived in America. Black and gay — or lesbian, transgender or bisexual — is all the rage. What's the hottest show on LOGO? RuPaul's Drag Race. What's the hottest show on Broadway? Kinky Boots, featuring openly gay star Billy Porter. And what's the second-hottest selling rookie jersey in the NFL? Openly gay player Michael Sam's #96.

That these individuals are African-American members of the LGBT community is no accident. We've seen wrestlers, rappers, singers and actors come out in recent years. What we haven't seen is the widespread community backlash that many predicted they'd face in the African-American community.

I've argued for years that African-Americans are no more homophobic than whites, even when Black gay colleagues insisted I was wrong. I believe they missed the point. Much of the manufactured rage against homosexuality in the Black community came as a reaction to the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, the hyper-masculinity of hip hop in the 1990s and the political manipulation of Black church folk against gay marriage in the early 2000s.

Those influences have diminished significantly in recent years as Black LGBT people have become increasingly visible. But for many years, white gays and lesbians, with the complicity of many in the Black community, saw mainstream African-Americans as a threat to the LGBT movement. We witnessed this as some white gay leaders quickly blamed homophobic African-Americans for California's approval of anti-gay Prop 8 in 2008, although a study would later debunk the argument.

Yet many white gay leaders moved too slowly in the past few decades to promote more visible Black LGBT images and spokespeople. Now, with the support of the African-American community and a progressive Black president, those images and spokespeople are starting to emerge on their own. Years ago we begged to be included. Now the face of the LGBT movement is more and more likely to be a person of color.

This moment won't last forever, but it's far from over. I know of other prominent African-Americans who will be coming out in the months ahead. They recognize this special moment as well. 

Keith Boykin is a New York Times best-selling author and former White House aide to President Clinton. He attended Harvard Law School with President Barack Obama and currently serves as a TV political commentator. He writes commentary for BET.com each week.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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